Saturday 17 March 2018

Aleppo gets first food delivery in weeks after rebels break siege

A rebel fighter reloads during clashes with state forces in Aleppo
A rebel fighter reloads during clashes with state forces in Aleppo

Josie Ensor

The opposition-held area of Aleppo got its first delivery of food in three weeks yesterday, after rebels managed to break the siege on the Syrian city.

Several trucks carrying fruit and vegetables made it through the route opened by victorious fighters.

The eastern districts of Syria's second city have been suffering severe food shortages since government forces cut the last road out on July 17. Aid agencies had warned of the risk of starvation for the remaining 300,000 residents, who have been surviving on mostly rice and lentils.

Civilians still remained trapped yesterday, however, as the road, under regular attack, was not yet safe enough for them to use.

"The Great Battle for Aleppo", as the opposition has dubbed it, saw an unprecedented alliance of around 10,000 rebels, Islamists and jihadists fighting regime troops for control of the city's southern suburbs.

Much of the manpower came from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) - until recently known as the Nusra Front and affiliated with al-Qa'ida - which brought in reinforcements from its various strongholds across the country.

Footage released by the group showed fighters from inside the city linking up with others on the outskirts after they managed to overrun the government's military complex in the Ramussa district, seizing huge caches of weapons.

Since the start of the offensive a week ago, more than 700 fighters from both sides have been killed, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. Most have been suffered by the rebel side, which has been bombarded by Russian air strikes.

The news of the liberation was met with euphoric scenes on the streets of eastern Aleppo. But celebrations were short-lived after regime warplanes began pounding the city in retaliation.

Doctors at the Omar bin Abdulaziz hospital said patients and staff took cover in the basement for most of night.

"Everyone is staying in the safest room," said Dr Fatima AlMousalem, whose hospital has been targeted several times in recent weeks. "We expected this bloody attack from the Assad regime. It happens every time they lose ground."

The defeat is a crushing one for Assad's government, which sees Aleppo as the prize in the civil war.

Both sides have thrown everything they have at the battle for the city, as each believes its fate will decide the outcome of the conflict.

But the beleaguered Syrian army has become increasingly reliant on air support from Russia, and on Afghan recruits from the Lebanese Shia militia Hizbollah, on the ground.

The rebel advance now endangers a major highway linking the government-controlled part of Aleppo to the outside world, leaving an estimated population of 1.2 million at risk of losing a supply line. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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